Anger as bankers move electric trains to the West Midlands

Class 323 EMU, Manchester Piccadilly station
The Class 323s first arrived in Greater Manchester in 1996, originally for services to and from Manchester Airport. Following issues with Railtrack’s Safety Case, the Hunslet TPL built units’ introduction was delayed by two years. They first appeared on the Hadfield line in November 1997, replacing slam-door Class 305s.

Almost a year after the DfT’s imposition of an evening peak for Greater Manchester’s rail users comes another body blow. Porterbrook Leasing, who owns most of Britain’s trains has refused to offer 17 Class 323 electric trains to Northern Rail’s successors in 2016.

Instead, the rolling stock leasing company (owned by Alberta Investment Management Corporation, Allianz Capital Partners, EDF Invest and Hastings Fund Management) has decided to move them to the West Midlands. At present, the Centro West Midlands boundary sees a number of local services utilising Class 323, and the move allows for greater standardisation. The reason, to reduce maintenance costs.

Greater Manchester’s Class 323s entered service in 1996 wearing GMPTE’s two tone grey livery with a red and white band below the windows. They displaced slam door electrics on the Manchester Piccadilly to Macclesfield and Stoke-on-Trent, and Crewe services. In 1997, they replaced the slam door Class 305 units on the Hadfield line. November that year saw the line’s first ever brand new trains since the arrival of the Class 506s. Platforms at Flowery Field station were extended to allow for the longer trains.

The Class 323s were the last new trains to be ordered by Regional Railways North West. They have been the mainstay of the all-stations Crewe service via Manchester Airport since arriving at Longsight depot.

Extra capacity though slightly older trains?

So far no definite reference is made of their replacements. It is likely that a further 20 Class 319 trains could compensate. If that was the case, the original aims of the extended electrification work will be diluted.

The original aim of the Northern Hub was to extend the 25kV overhead line equipment over other parts of Greater Manchester. It was hoped the electric trains could displace Sprinters and Pacers from the Bolton and Wigan lines. Ultimately it could mean electric trains from Wigan to Huddersfield.

Instead, the 20 Class 319s, slightly older than the 323s they could replace, may be used on affected services from Piccadilly to Glossop, Macclesfield, Stoke-on-Trent and Crewe. If so, could the Crewe service be extended to Liverpool Lime Street leaving two spare track paths (though this will be seen as a service cut)? Could the Glossop trains be extended to Old Trafford on matchdays?

This would only leave three spare Class 319s, excluding the present two seen on the Liverpool Lime Street service from Manchester Airport. Could the spares find a use on peak hour journeys from Stalybridge to Blackpool North via Manchester Victoria or Manchester Piccadily and Bolton?

Traction Top Trumps: The Class 319s and the Class 323s

Class 323 details in brackets, Class 319 figures refer to 319/3 subclass:
  • Length: 65′ 1″ – 65′ 4″ (front and rear, 76′ 8″; centre carriage, 76′, 11″)
  • Carriages: 4 cars (3 cars);
  • Seats: 303 (284);
  • Standing capacity: 109 (unknown);
  • Maximum Speed: 100 mph (90 mph);
  • Built: 1990, as Class 319/1 (1992 – 95);
  • Built by: BREL York (Hunslet TPL).

When you compare the above figures, there is going to be little improvement on the Class 323’s capacity. An extra nineteen seats on the 319/1s. The trains may be slightly faster but probably wouldn’t be used to their full potential. That in terms of offering a real improvement on its predecessors. Compared with the Class 323s today, little improvement. Yet, if the wires were energised between Huddersfield and Manchester Victoria, a vast improvement on the Class 142 Pacer units.

With news of Transpennine Express’ Class 170s transferring to Oxfordshire still rankling, the displacement of the Class 323s could be a politically sensitive one. On the Glossop to Manchester Piccadilly run, possibly more delays as the platforms at some stations are too short for the 4 car units. The near self-contained nature of the line south of Hyde Junction offers scope for Metrolink conversion, though this could stymie any attempts to reopen the Woodhead line.

The stopping services from Piccadilly to Macclesfield and Crewe also passes three solid Conservative party seats. In Macclesfield, that of David Rutley’s; Fiona Bruce’s seat in Congleton; and (formerly Gwyneth Dunwoody’s seat), Edward Timpson’s Crewe and Nantwich constituency. With the perception of higher fares and older trains, could the M6 be busier?

Yet, it is the party whose rail privatisation model espouses this internal market. One where most of our rolling stock is controlled by bankers. Wouldn’t it make more sense if the franchisees owned the rolling stock outright, automatically passing the trains on to their successors? Couldn’t the Integrated Transport Authorities be given more money to maintain them (which explains why West Yorkshire has better trains as the Class 333s are funded by Metro West Yorkshire PTE)?

As a consequence, the Class 319s could replace the 323s. The Pacers, alas, could be with us for a bit longer (I have almost thought of nipping to Betfred and putting a £1 on them running till 2035). Could the dreaded D78 conversions be an answer for capacity improvements?

As proven by today’s revelations (which at first I thought was the work of a professional troll), it shows that the internal market for rolling stock isn’t fit for purpose. Though FirstGroup and Stagecoach may lease their buses, why isn’t their investment bankers forcing Queens Road garage to send its Volvo B9s to Bristol?

The Class 319s may offer modest capacity improvements and a smoother ride, but that is not the point. Sure there may be handsome and that Northern Rail’s Northern Electrics livery looks the part. Yes, the seats may be comfier but again, this is not the point.

Their displacement sends out one signal: that the Hardworking People® of Northern England aren’t worthy of brand new trains. Today’s Pacer units are entering their thirties which warrants Heritage DMU Status (bestowed on Class 101s which were 30 years old in 1986 and regarded as… Heritage DMUs). Ditto that of the Sprinters.

To all intents, the Northern Powerhouse® was always going to be a vote catching gimmick. Perhaps they might send us some new trains. On one condition that Cuadrilla would have first dibs on the Peak National Park, or that almost every single ticket office in Greater Manchester would have to close.

S.V., 24 August 2015.

5 thoughts on “Greater Manchester Set to Lose Another 17 Trains

  1. Hi Stuart,

    I wonder what little influence TfGM have given they at least partly support part or all of the routes which the 323s operate on?

    Incidentally I recall they created quite a stir when first introduced on the Styal loop line in the summer of 1994 replacing the ageing 305s on the airport service. In fact three units with additional luggage space were dedicated to this service. Who funded this I wonder – GMPTE? Manchester Airport?

    It should also be noted that although slower the 323s acceleration is superior to a 319.




    1. Hi Jim,

      A good question being as the Hadfield route for example is wholly subsidised by TfGM. One problem is Transport for Greater Manchester, unlike its neighbours on the other side of the Pennines, do not own a single Pacer unit or extra carriage. Metro West Yorkshire own the Class 153s and funded the centre carriages of its Class 144 Pacer units.

      Therefore, in spite of the marginal capacity improvements, a 319 wouldn’t be able to make the timings of the 323s. Even with their top speed of 100 mph. In one way I suppose it solves the issue of the stopping trains enjoying faster times from Guide Bridge to Piccadilly than the Transpennine Express diesels.

      I could imagine the 323s causing a stir at the time. Greater Manchester’s last new EMUs were the Class 310s (early to mid 1970s) seen on the all-stations to Stafford and Birmingham New Street. The 303s on the Hadfield line were cascaded from Glasgow, replacing the 506s.

      Bye for now,



  2. Stuart

    I am about to write a letter to the Glossop Chronicle about this issue, using information on you blog page. One thing I don’t understand is why there is a shortage of these trains. Can they not be manufactured and leased at a profit or what ?

    Pardon my ignorance on these matters. I am just trying to get up to speed

    Peter Allen
    Derbyshire Green Party


    1. Hi Peter,

      It boils down to one thing: a lackadaisical rolling stock policy which has seen Northern Rail and Transpennine Express losing out. The present holders and its successors will have access to the Class 323s till 2019 (according to Porterbrook Leasing), though the current lease ends on the 07 February 2016.

      What’s worse is the lack of replacements besides juggling Northern’s existing fleet. You may remember that Northern’s franchise was awarded on a zero growth basis with no money for new trains. Hence the chronic overcrowding on the Huddersfield line; hence the continued use of Pacer units.

      This is also mentioned on Rail magazine’s website (link: and will be discussed in greater detail in their 02 September issue.

      Bye for now,



      1. well London midland need the xtra 323s because of the extension from barnt green to broms grove been electrified and also Walsall to rugerley been electrified the platforms in midland were extended to take 6 cars but instead of having the full 43 sets they went up north


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